U.S. troops are vastly overworked, and Congress must help the Defense Department to improve the situation by re-orienting the Pentagon's budget, says Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
"Our people are strong and resilient after 12 years of war, but they are under stress, and so are the institutions that support them," Hagel told the Veterans of Foreign Wars at its annual convention Monday in Louisville, Politico reports
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"Last week at Fort Bragg's Soldier and Family Assistance Center, I met a first sergeant who told me that in Afghanistan, he froze up and became overwhelmed by anxiety. He couldn't command. He had lost his ability to command," Hagel said.
"I asked him how many deployments he had. He told me he was on his fifth consecutive combat tour when this happened. When you push human beings this hard, they break. Some people have been pushed beyond the breaking point," Hagel said.
The military needs "careful rebalancing," Hagel said. To improve combat readiness, the Pentagon must curb personnel costs, which account for half its budget, and apply more resources to training and modernization, he said, according to Politico.
“If trends continue, we could ultimately be left with a much smaller force that is well-compensated but poorly trained and equipped. That would be unacceptable," the defense secretary said.
Congress has to be more open to change, Hagel said.
"Opposing, for political reason or any other reason, every reform or cost-savings measure is shortsighted and irresponsible, and it does not help our men and women in uniform, especially when these savings can be used to fund readiness and modernization," he said.
"This will require Congress joining DOD in a partnership of difficult choices, priorities and decisions — not easy. It will take some courage," Hagel said.
Hagel said he saw the impact of inadequate funding for various parts of the military mission in his visit to Fort Bragg last week.
"I heard from infantrymen whose units were short on training rounds for their weapons," he said. "Each of the services has curtailed activities — flying hours have been reduced, ships are not sailing and Army training has been halted. These kinds of gaps and shortages could lead to a force that is inadequately trained, ill-equipped and unable to fulfill required missions."
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Pentagon proposals for budget savings, such as smaller pay hikes, bigger healthcare fees and base closures, have been rejected by Congress.
Hagel complained about the automatic sequester budget cuts that are slated to take $500 million from defense spending over the next 10 years. The sequester "is an irresponsible process, and it is terribly damaging," he said, according to Defense Daily
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